Open Studio with Jared Bowen

S8 E30 | FULL EPISODE

MassArt Art Museum, Ice Dance International, and more

This week a look at the renovation of the MassArt Art museum and the array of colorful and interactive exhibitions, then we take a spin with Ice Dance International in our studios in advance of their tour throughout New England and a feature on artist Robert Freeman and his work, “Mardi Gras Indians.” His work, along with other pieces are on exhibit at Regis College Fine Arts Center.

AIRED: February 28, 2020 | 0:26:46
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TRANSCRIPT

>> JARED BOWEN: Welcome toOpen Studio,

WGBH's weekly spotlight on arts and culture

from around the region and the nation.

I'm Jared Bowen, coming up on Open Studio,

MassArt graduates to a new museum.

>> Any museum can put sculpture on the floor.

But I wanted the first show to show something

that we'd never done before,

which is completely suspend something up in the sky.

>> BOWEN: Then, the ice dancers are here,

and I give it a twirl.

>> We aspire to be like a Boston Ballet, you know,

a repertory dance company, but on ice.

>> ♪ We close our eyes

>> BOWEN: Plus artist Robert Freeman

and a parade of Mardi Gras Indians.

>> The figures communicate to me who they are,

and then they become much more real.

And I have to work at making them real,

so that they're interesting to me as I'm developing them

and interesting to anyone who's going to look at them.

>> BOWEN: It's all now onOpen Studio.

First up, Boston has a brand-new museum.

After a multimillion-dollar renovation,

the former galleries at MassArt have reopened

as the MassArt Art Museum,

a new contemporary art museum,

now open year-round and always free.

It's where I recently met

the museum's executive director, Lisa Tung.

Here we are, your brand-new museum.

>> Yay! >> BOWEN: What's...

Congratulations. >> Thank you.

>> BOWEN: What's the one bit of advice

you wanted to give people who haven't been here yet?

>> I want people to feel like this is their space,

that we're a welcoming place to come and hang out

in our Arne Glimcher Plaza,

and to come visit and to visit often,

because we are a temporary exhibition space

that will change up our shows year-round.

>> BOWEN: Should we go in? >> You want to come in?

Yes. >> BOWEN: I do.

I'm so excited about this. >> Jared, welcome to MAAM.

>> BOWEN: Thank you.

Lisa Tung is the museum's executive director,

and happy to be rid of the old MassArt galleries,

a warren of winding ways that, despite the art on view,

felt very much like the former gymnasium it once was.

>> We were really just spaces.

There was a space to show a show,

a space to show another show.

But there was no lobby, like we're standing in right now,

and there was no front door.

>> BOWEN: But after a 20-month,

12-and-a-half-million-dollar renovation,

MassArt has reopened as a full-fledged museum

with free admission.

Tung calls it aKunsthalle,

the German word for a non-collecting museum.

>> Allows us to be nimble.

Allows us to not be, um, beholden to a collection,

that we have to show something every so often, you know,

because it's in storage somewhere.

It allows us to respond to today's topics

and dialogue and ideas and artists.

>> BOWEN: In the lobby, you'll find an installation

by Brooklyn-based artist duo Ghost of a Dream.

>> We gave Ghost 30 years' worth of exhibition ephemera--

catalogues, posters, newspaper clippings, postcards.

And they have created

a kaleidoscopic patterning of madness.

>> BOWEN: It's now game time for the new museum

and one of its first exhibitions.

Game Changers is a show of video games at play,

with much to say.

Tracy Fullerton'sWalden invites a slowing down,

with demerits for a competitive pace.

Momo Pixel'sHair Nah

is born out of people's predilections

for touching a black woman's hair unsolicited.

And artist and MassArt professor Juan Obando

hacked the popular Pro Evolution Soccer game

to createPro Revolution Soccer.

(game announcer speaking Spanish)

>> BOWEN: His game inserts members

of Mexico's Zapatista Army of National Liberation, or EZLN,

a civil resistance group, onto the soccer field.

It's based on a proposed match that never materialized.

EZLN, he says, are not unlike computer and game hackers.

>> I thought that the metaphor was very, very clear.

People are intervening the system.

It's no different from the way

that EZLN has intervened the Mexican system.

>> BOWEN: Upstairs, in the museum's main gallery,

a jaw-dropping installation

by Lisbon-based artist Joana Vasconcelos.

>> Any museum can put sculpture on the floor.

But I wanted the first show to show something

that we'd never done before,

which is completely suspend something up in the sky.

And I was a little selfish.

I wanted to bring an artist

who had never shown in Boston before.

>> BOWEN: How do you want people to feel

when they are underneath?

Or do you want people to feel when they're underneath?

>> Well, the idea is that

this piece has a kind of, um, a movement.

She's flying in that direction.

And of course, she has a center.

And this center is like any chapel, any cathedral.

>> BOWEN: "She" would be the latest

in the artist's Valkyries series,

in which she's created pieces around the world,

including in Paris, London, and Bilbao.

>> The Valkyries are goddesses, flying goddesses-- warriors.

And they will fly over the battlefield,

and they will bring alive the brave warriors.

>> BOWEN: Here, the museum is the battlefield,

a place Vasconcelos says

where the spirit of art and dreams are revived.

The piece is named for and inspired by

Elizabeth Mumbet Freeman, an enslaved Massachusetts woman

who was the first to sue for her freedom.

>> And I was, like, "Okay,

"this was an incredible woman.

"Without, you know, knowledge,

"without being able to read or to write,

"she fought for her rights and for her freedom.

That's the spirit of the Valkyries."

>> BOWEN: Vasconcelos's Valkyries

are made in her Lisbon studio--

a space for magic, as she describes it.

Teams of assistants craft the works

out of deliberately chosen fabrics.

In this case, they come from Mozambique,

a nod to Elizabeth Mumbet Freeman's history.

And they are beings, she says.

>> You can look into this as an animal

or you can look into this as a plant

or as a monster from the sea world.

Uh, it, you can look into this from an, a lot of angles.

It, it's not upon me to decide which one.

>> BOWEN: Why not? You made it.

>> Yeah, I know, but I like to make open things.

So, you can analyze and choose whatever connects with you.

That's the idea.

>> BOWEN: One writ large-- very large.

Next, we meet a group of very chill dancers.

They are the performers of Ice Dance International,

a Maine-based company bringing ballet to the ice.

And sometimes, they bring the ice with them,

as they did in our own studio.

Here they perform Back Bay Shuffle.

("Back Bay Shuffle" by Artie Shaw playing)

(music continues)

(music continues)

(music continues)

(music continues)

(music continues)

("Back Bay Shuffle" ends)

Thank you both so much for joining us

and for the gorgeous performance right here in our studio.

>> Thank you for having us. >> Amazing.

>> BOWEN: So, this isn't dance, this isn't figure skating.

What is it?

>> Well, Ice Dance International

is a professional performing-arts company that...

Really, the vision is to build a bridge

from sport to art.

And we aspire to be like a Boston Ballet, you know,

a repertory dance company, but on ice, so...

>> BOWEN: Well, what is the distinction?

Is there a difference in, in putting dance on ice?

I mean, there is a tremendous amount of athleticism

for the ice, of course. >> Sure.

And there's athleticism, of course, for ballet,

and for any kind of dance.

I think that we aspire for the same goals.

But I think the only difference is, is the ice,

and the sense that we don't have friction.

We're with an ease of glide and an ease of flow.

And that's the real difference.

And I think that's also the difference

that makes skating a true art form,

is the sense of flight.

And our show is called In Flight.

>> BOWEN: Well, Ian, what's your background,

and how has it morphed into ice dance?

>> So, I was competitive internationally

for the U.S.A. for about ten years.

When we're out on the ice, we don't have to worry about,

like, the judges anymore.

And now, now we can worry about...

We can look to performing our best

to try to move our audience in various different ways.

>> BOWEN: And how would you describe

what you're doing now versus what you've done before

in the competitive world? >> Um, so...

>> BOWEN: Artistically. >> Artistically?

Well, um, you know, in the competitive world,

the maximum length is about four minutes

that we have to tell a story, you know?

So we're not, we know, we're only limited

to the time of the show that we're able to provide.

And, um, you know, uh, um,

that gives us a lot more storytelling opportunities,

as well as being able to hold things longer

and, and really connect with our audience.

>> BOWEN: So you're doing... >> It's in a different manner.

>> BOWEN: You're doing full-length ballets.

>> We are, mm-hmm.

Well, we haven't done a full-lengthNutcracker

or a full-length Romeo and Juliet,

but we do full-length repertory pieces,

some of which are ten, 11, 12 minutes long.

(Fauré's music toEmeralds playing)

But this show that you'll see if you come to the show in Boston,

we're doing a selection of shorter pieces.

So they sort of max out

at about, well, the Moby piece is ten minutes.

But most of them are six, seven minutes,

and the variety moves along.

The music's, like, Max Richter, Philip Glass,

Artie Shaw, you know,

trying to find those parallels to ballet

in the, in the choices that we make.

>> ♪ We close our eyes

♪ The perfect life

♪ Life is all we need

>> BOWEN: And people are really intrigued by this.

You've had, there are major choreographers who are now

working in ice dance. >> Sure.

>> BOWEN: Who, who are some of them?

>> Well, we're lucky enough to have founded our company

with Edward Villella, who, of course,

is George Balanchine's protégé

and went on to found the Miami City Ballet.

His wife, Linda, was a Canadian figure skating champion,

and she went to the Olympics in '68.

But we also work with Trey McIntyre,

who has a piece in our company.

>> ♪ You pass something down no matter where or how ♪

♪ Will there be weeds or wildflowers ♪

♪ Affixed upon your bows

>> Trey is incredibly famous

and prolific right now in his choreography.

He just made a piece for the Houston Ballet

and also the San Francisco Ballet, so...

>> BOWEN: Well, talk to me,

I'm intrigued about what you said a moment ago,

just the, the lack of, of friction.

>> Yeah. >> BOWEN: And so, what...

You can glide, you can move

in a way that you couldn't on a traditional stage.

What does that feel like?

>> Being able to take one step

and for it to take you the entire length of the stage, um,

offers that feeling of flight,

that feeling of, like, floating through space.

So, um, it, it is very different.

We, we work on tracks, too, so it's very, it can,

unless we're standing still,

it's very linear. >> Yeah.

>> We're either going backwards or we're going forwards,

versus being able to have, like, all of our cardinal directions.

>> BOWEN: How much of your body are you using?

>> All of it. (all laugh)

All of it.

Should be. >> Yeah.

It's a, it's, you know,

it's a 360-degree way of moving in skating.

And that's different from the sort of '70s, '60s-'70s style

of figure skating and dance.

It's really moving into a much more modern, contemporary style.

>> BOWEN: I was remarking when I came into our own studio

that it's weird to be standing on ice in ice skates,

but not have it be 30 degrees or 20 degrees.

How do you feel the atmosphere, the environment,

when you come onto these surfaces?

>> Like, plastic versus... >> BOWEN: Well, yeah,

I guess I should clarify

that you haven't created ice in our studio.

What are we standing on? >> So, it's, yeah...

>> Well, it is actually E.Z. Glide 350.

It's a synthetic polymer surface

that, um, is a plastic skating surface.

So we, we use this regularly

for galas and corporate-type events.

We don't generally perform on it.

But last summer, we did do a performance at Jacob's Pillow,

and created some of the repertoire you'll see there

for the Jacob's Pillow Inside/Out festival.

>> BOWEN: What's the drive to do this?

To, to invent something new, to, to change the form?

>> Sure, well,

I think, ultimately, it started with John Curry

back in '76,

and it's had multiple sort of incarnations

through this time.

The drive for me is to remember John Curry,

and remember the...

He passed away.

But remember the art form that he created.

>> BOWEN: And what is it like to participate in this,

and knowing that you're launching something?

It's always wonderful to go back throughout art history

and see these moments where,

where new art movements and forms are created.

And you're, you're part of it. >> Yeah, it's, it's an honor.

It's a, it's a great honor to be a part of all of this.

>> BOWEN: Okay, without my permission,

my producers have signed me up for something.

Might not end well.

What are we doing here? >> (laughing)

>> BOWEN: You're laughing, I already don't like this.

>> No, you're going to have a fun time.

It's a, in the piece that's coming up,Luminous,

we have a lift that the ladies fly away from the guys,

and the forces will take you.

It's a beautiful lift, and it'll be a fun ride for you.

So have a good time. >> We got you, we got you.

>> BOWEN: Okay, all right, I hope so.

Okay.

(chuckling)

I'm sorry, as I take you all down.

(all laughing) Thank you.

("Luminous" by Max Richter playing)

(music continues)

(music continues)

(music continues)

(music continues)

(music continues)

("Luminous" ends)

And now we dance over to Arts This Week.

The Harvard Radcliffe Orchestra is holding a birthday bash

for Beethoven.

To celebrate the composer's 250th birthday,

Harvard students will make it a symphonic Sunday.

Gordon Parks: New Tide focuses on the first decade

of the influential African American photographer's

60-year career.

See it at the Addison Gallery of American Art Tuesday.

Wednesday, see Second City's famously funny female comedians

inShe the People:

Girlfriends' Guide to Sisters Doing It for Themselves.

The show's songs and sketches poke fun at the patriarchy.

There's a lot more to Paul Revere than "one if by land."

The Revolutionary War hero was a Renaissance man.

Relish Revere as a silversmith and church bell-maker

at the Worcester Art Museum Thursday.

Saturday,After Spiritualism

provides the opportunity to reflect on personal loss.

The Fitchburg Art Museum explores the desire

of the living to connect with those lost

for comfort and guidance.

Next, painter Robert Freeman's recent body of work

takes us to the colorful parades

of the Mardi Gras Indians in New Orleans.

As he's done for decades in front of a canvas,

he lets the brush guide him.

We're revisiting a story we first brought you in 2018,

just as a new exhibition of his Mardi Gras Indians opens

at the Regis College Fine Arts Center.

>> As a kid, I used to take a piece of paper

and I'd scribble on it with a pencil

to a point where you couldn't see anything on the paper.

>> BOWEN: Robert Freeman has always been an artist.

It's how he's made his living

and how he's seen the world.

He depicts the African American experience,

examines the face of race in American society,

and, in his most recent work,

he absorbs the pageantry and spirit

of Mardi Gras Indians in New Orleans.

>> People were coming out of their doorways

to join the parade.

And you can't... you can't walk.

You have to just dance with the musics.

>> BOWEN: Freeman was invited to New Orleans by his friend

photographer Max Stern.

His pictures capture black Indians

parading in their festive fury

of elaborately beaded and feathered suits,

and how they subsume neighborhoods

with an intoxicating lure

of dancing, drumming, and music-making.

>> It just stirred the soul and the heart.

And I remember coming back to the studio

and trying to, to duplicate that experience.

>> BOWEN: Freeman's paintings of Mardi Gras Indians,

along with the Max Stern photographs

that inspired them,

are now on view at Roxbury's Museum of the National Center

of Afro-American Artists

in Roxbury.

>> We celebrate the visual arts heritage

of the global black world.

>> BOWEN: Edmund Barry Gaither

is the museum's director and curator.

Here he finds himself drawn into the parades just as Freeman was.

>> You're brought into this moment,

and you come into that with all of your own personal baggage,

and hopefully, you step out of it with some of that released

into the fervor of the moment.

Because part of what masquerades do is,

they free you of the weight of your own identity.

>> The characters have to tell you who they are.

You can't force them to... to your will.

They have to arrive.

>> BOWEN: We met Freeman in his studio

a month before the show opened,

as he was finishing one last piece.

He approaches his canvas as a novelist might the page,

forming characters with full-blown personalities.

>> If the figures communicate to me who they are,

then they become much more real.

And I have to work at making them real,

so that they're interesting to me as I'm developing them,

and interesting to anyone who's going to look at them.

>> BOWEN: In college,

Freeman's teachers included famed painter Philip Guston

and John Wilson,

whose bronze of Martin Luther King, Jr.,

inspired a moment of reflection for President Barack Obama

before his second inauguration.

It was a piece Wilson created

as much from his impressions of King

as from actual images.

>> I remember when we... we were all drawing and...

and thought we kind of had it down pretty good.

He would say, "All right, now...

I've given you that vocabulary, now say something with it."

>> BOWEN: Freeman had a lot to say

in hisBlack Tie series--

a commentary on African Americans

in the middle class.

>> I think in the beginning,

the satire was about the rejection

or the voting process

as to whether you were good enough for that group,

and, and what the criteria was to join that group.

As I got older, I realized it's hard to be a member

of the middle class,

and have some response... and be a responsible citizen.

And I began to admire my group an awful lot more

than in the beginning.

>> BOWEN: Today, Freeman's work appears

in exhibitions, gallery shows, and museum collections.

But in the beginning, as an up-and-coming artist--

especially one of color--

he couldn't get a foothold in Boston's art scene.

>> I would take the paintings out of the U-Haul van,

and take them into the galleries,

and one gallery after the next would say something like,

"Well, you know,

"we don't have clientele that, that would be interested

in, in painting these African Americans."

>> BOWEN: That changed with just one review inThe Boston Globe

and the support of early champions like Gaither.

>> I have followed Robert Freeman's work

for a long time,

and have been very fascinated with the topics

that have been exciting to him,

because they have been topics which dance at the edge

of social ideas.

>> I'm not sure where I'm going with this now.

I just need to drop back on it just a little bit.

>> BOWEN: Freeman says he has trouble stepping away

from his paintings.

He always has the urge to add another brushstroke

here or there,

regardless of whether his works are in his studio

or seemingly finished on gallery walls.

So the best sense of an ending, he says?

The audience.

>> If I can get people to stand in front of a painting

and absorb that compositional power,

not knowing what they're looking at,

or why they can't move away from that particular piece,

that, that's...

That's success for me.

>> BOWEN: And that is all for this edition ofOpen Studio.

We are off for the next two weeks,

but we'll return March 20

with a look at how painter Lucian Freud looked at himself.

In the meantime, you can always catch my latest art news

and reviews every Wednesday

with Jim Braude and Margery Eagan onBoston Public Radio

and every Thursday with Joe Mathieu onMorning Edition.

I'm Jared Bowen, thanks for joining us.

And as always, you can visit us online at WGBH.org/OpenStudio,

and you can follow us on Instagram and Twitter,

@OpenStudioWGBH.

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